Dose-specific Effects of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) on Experimental Pain: A Systematic Review


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Abstract

ObjectiveTo determine the hypoalgesic effects of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) parameter combinations on experimental models in healthy humans.MethodsSearches were performed using the electronic databases Ovid MEDLINE, CINAHL, AMED, and Web of Science (from inception to December 2009). Manual searches of journals and reference lists of retrieved trials were also performed. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) were included in the review if they compared the hypoalgesic effect of TENS relative with placebo and control, using an experimental pain model in healthy human participants. Two reviewers independently selected the trials, assessed their methodologic quality and extracted data.ResultsForty-three RCTs were eligible for inclusion. A best evidence synthesis revealed: Overall “conflicting” (inconsistent findings in multiple RCTs) evidence of TENS efficacy on experimental pain irrespective of TENS parameters used. Overall intense TENS has “moderate” evidence of efficacy (1 high-quality and 2 low-quality trials). Conventional TENS has overall conflicting evidence of efficacy, this is derived from “strong” evidence of efficacy (generally consistent findings in multiple high-quality RCTs) on pressure pain but strong evidence of inefficacy on other pain models. “Limited” evidence (positive findings from 1 RCT) of hypoalgesia exists for some novel parameters. Low-intensity, low-frequency, local TENS has strong evidence of inefficacy. Inappropriate TENS (using “barely perceptible” intensities) has moderate evidence of inefficacy.DiscussionThe level of hypoalgesic efficacy of TENS is clearly dependent on TENS parameter combination selection (defined in terms of intensity, frequency, and stimulation site) and experimental pain model. Future clinical RCTs may consider these TENS dose responses.

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